Updated: Jan 19
"Shake, rattle 'n roll may be great for dancing to good old rock 'n roll, but to truly master your belly dance shimmies, it
takes a lot more than just shakin' it up on the dance floor. "
As Belly Dance Beginners, We Don't Know What We Don't Know
You've learned to do shoulder shimmies and hip shimmies, and you've probably even performed them in a choreography at a hafla. (That was exciting even though it was bit scary.)
You felt like a “real”belly dancer—until...you saw a truly accomplished belly dancer, a virtuoso, someone perhaps like Jillina—one of the Miles Copeland Belly Dance Superstars who could absolutely NAIL HER SHIMMIES. They were...
Precisely embodying the music.
And now you're like, "OMG! Will my shimmies ever look like hers? Maybe I just don't got what it takes." Uh. Wrong. Yes, you do "have what it takes"...you just don't yet have all of the skills you need to execute spectacular belly dance shimmies (and, yes, they are different from rock 'n roll shimmies). And I'm here to help you to fix that. Keep reading.
Why Does Everyone Love Shimmies?
Shimmies are one of the most popular belly dance moves—for both us dancers and our audiences—because they're just so much fun to do. And, when we can pull them off with finesse, they're just amazing to watch. When we can make it look like our bodies are precisely matching that rolling drum or trilling oud, while our faces are smiling and our bodies looking relaxed, it positively seems like we are defying nature by the very effortlessness of our performance. And then, when we can keep that shimmy going and going and going...it's simply a delight for us as dancers and for our audiences, whether they be friends at a party or guests at a show.
How We Want our Shimmies to Shine
As belly dancers, we want our shimmies to be more than just shaking body parts. Not only do we want to have fun doing them, we want for them to show the music (because after all that is what belly dancing is) and honestly, we want anyone watching our shimmies to be totally mesmerized, right? We want our shimmies to look like we were born doing them, and we want to be able to keep them going for as long as the drum rolls or the oud trills.
But, first things first...learning skills to improve your art takes time. It takes lots and lots of practice, and even more patience. There will be times that your progress really quickly, and there will be other times when it feels like you're actually going backwards. But, you must PERSEVERE! Focus on being grateful that you have the time to do something as "frivolous" as dance. I'm not trying to belittle our beloved belly dance, but truly, when we get frustrated with what seems to be our own slow progress, let's take a moment to reflect on the blessing it is to be able to dance. (Check out our YouTube Shorts belly dance micro-lessons.)
The 5 Characteristics that Make Great Belly Dance Shimmies
#1 Control the Size of Your Shimmy
Most of us are better at doing things with one side of the body than with the other. Like writing—we almost always write with just one hand, and doing it with the other seems impossible. Or think about a belly dance move like hip drops. Do you find them so much easier to do and so much better looking on one side than on the other? Almost all of us have this assymetry and that imbalance—whether it be from being stronger and/or more flexible on one side of the body—can so easily make our shimmy motions lopsided...which leads to, shall we say, less than lovely shimmies. Check yourself in the mirror or film yourself: do your shimmies look lopsided?
Watch this video to learn techniques to balance your skills on each side of your body.
#2 Time Your Shimmy to Match the Music
This is probably the most overlooked characteristic of shimmies. When the music seems to be going at full speed ahead shouldn't we just be going full tilt? No! Whether you are shimmying to a drum roll or an oud or qanun trill, you are trying to replicate on your body the same number of motions that the musician is doing with his/her hands on the instrument. I know. Sounds impossible. So do this: start very slowly and practice counting the beat as you do each shimmy motion. Then count each half beat as you do each shimmy motion; then each quarter beat. Only go as fast as you can and still keep controlled motions. Be patient. This will take a lot of time. Focus on enjoying the process of gaining skill and some serious muscle tone!
#3 Isolate Your Shimmy
Arguably, the magic of belly dance is the ability of the dancer to isolate her/his moves and then to layer these isolated moves so that there are actually lots of independent actions going on in the body which then combine to make this amazing dance that looks like a full band is playing on the dancer's body. For instance, a vertical hip shimmy layered onto a hip circle layered onto a walk, with finger cymbals playing a rhythm in time with the music. Aiwa Habibi! It's amazing to watch and incredibly fulfilling to learn to do. And the key is learning to isolate each move first. And this begins with posture. Posture is THE KEY to isolating your shimmy. I know. Easy to say and a lifetime to perfect. Again, what's the deal? That's right! Enjoy the process.
#4 Make Your Shimmy Deliberate
If you take a closer look at the second photo in this post—the one where Bob and I are doing our first drum solo performance—you'll notice the jingles on both my bra and my belt going "haywire." That's because I was just shaking everything. I could feel that I should be shimmying when Bob was doing a roll on the drum, but I didn't understand that there were different shimmies and that to really match what Bob was playing, I needed choose a shimmy and do it deliberately. It is this deliberation that is the nuance to show the different sounds on our bodies—like a treble, or higher pitched roll, versus a bass, or lower pitched roll.
#5 Maintain Proper Belly Dance Posture
Did I mention posture? 🤪 LOL! I know, but posture is truly the foundation of the aesthetic of any belly dance move. To see what I mean, look at photos that friends have taken of you while performing at a half—if you cringe when you seem them (as I did for years!), what do you notice? Since we can't actually see the moves, we are really looking at a stop-action of the move and that is where we can see our posture. It takes lots of strength and stamina—which comes from lots of PRACTICE—to maintain beautiful belly dance posture all through our dance. You can do it. What's the phrase of the day? That's right! Enjoy the process. 😊
Here's the SHORT CUT
You're probably already familiar with Jensuya Belly Dance School, and I encourage you to do the Range of Motion Classes and Drills to truly master your shimmies. Begin with the Level 1 Classes and Drills where we start at the very foundation of the motions making up belly dance moves and how to actually match them to the music. The Level 2 classes build on Level 1 and the Level 3 classes build on Level 2. Check out the preview videos in the links for more details about the classes.
Yallah Habibi! Share with us in the Comments what you struggle with in your shimmies. 💕
Watch this video to learn how the Range of Motion Classes and Drills can help you master your shimmies (and all your belly dance moves).
To see all our ONLINE COURSES, click on the image or click here: school.jensuya.com.
© Jennifer Carpenter-Peak & Robert Peak 2022